Visit the Taj

I believe it would be fair to say everyone has a different impression of the Taj Mahal upon actually visiting because she presents herself in a different way to each different visitor. In pictures, I’ve always seen the calm, peaceful, deserted Taj Mahal with clear skies and untouched water. When I visited, I saw her on a relatively cloudy day with so many people I swore everyone was duplicating themselves multiples times once passing through the gates. Upon first glimpse, I was almost thinking “That’s not the Taj Mahal.” Rahul and I stopped to take pictures once entering, which every other tourist did as well. So if we took too long trying to get a shot wrong, or just stood in the same spot for too long, we would get shoved, slowly edged out of our spot, crowded, and number of things that would drive even the most weathered travelers mad.

The Taj

But after moving away from the crowd clumps (appropriate term for where the highest amount of tourists would congregate, like ant hill mounds) and after taking a few moments to really let it sink in that I was staring at the Taj Mahal, it hit me: I was standing in front of probably the greatest testament of one person’s love for another that the world has ever seen.

Just a quick history lesson on the Taj Mahal; it was built by the Mughul ruler Shahjahan in the 1600s after his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, passed away giving birth to her 14th child at the age of 38 (she was getting busy to have had 13 children by 38). He wanted her burial place to be as beautiful as their love for each other, and so he had the Taj Mahal constructed. It took 20 years to build, and Shahjahan was overthrown and imprisoned by his son after its completion, spending the rest of his life in Agra Fort, only able to see his wife’s burial place at a distance.

Shahjahan also desired to be buried next to his wife, who is placed in the exact center of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the greatest example of Mughul architecture, and the Mughuls were really big on symmetry and geographical shapes. The Taj Mahal is actually the exact same from all four sides, making it look like a little box with a building in the middle of it from a distance. Mumtaz’s tomb is in the exact middle of the Taj Mahal with Shahjahan’s tomb placed sloppily beside it, the only thing not symmetrically perfect in the whole grounds.

View of Taj Mahal from Agra Fort–looks like a little box!

Mumtaz placed perfectly in the center, Shanjahan on the side

While the purpose for the Taj Mahal’s construction is amazing, so is the amount of people who come to visit it every year. We took an early morning train from Delhi to Agra. We arrived in Agra around 8 AM and were immediately followed for around five minutes by a cab driver vying for our business. We took an auto instead, dozens of them lined up near the train station waiting for business—surely more often than not tourists wanting to be taken to the Taj Mahal. We got there early enough that we didn’t have to wait in line at the South Entrance (by far the most beautiful entrance), which was packed with people trying to enter when we left. One of the things tour guide books warn against is fake tour guides—people who will promise a tour of the Taj Mahal, ask for payment, and then take off. We saw this happen to a few tourists when we were leaving but, the tourists caught on to the scheme before the fake tour guide could play the vanishing game.

All these people have to go somewhere, thus sprinkling themselves on the grounds of the Taj Mahal, pushing their way through the inside mausoleum, taking turns snapping pictures in the popular spots, congregating in large groups from spot to spot to spot. We had a joke going on while we were there about the “bros” at the Taj Mahal, as there was an alarming amount of teenage Indian boys wondering in clumps, as if scoping out the area for ladies.

Just to give you a small idea of how many people were there

Once getting past the crowds, I was able to appreciate more the wonder of the monument, and the hundreds of other people there became not an annoyance but another component of the majesticness of the Taj Mahal. The white marble looms over the surrounding gardens and fluid crowds. The first sighting almost doesn’t even make sense, the sight of the structure confirming its almost mythical existence. The Taj Majal was something we learned about every year in school and so to be standing in front of it was unreal. And it did feel unreal, for a moment, until I acknowledged the fact that this crowded, hot, sunny Taj Mahal I visited was the same Taj Mahal I had seen in dozens of pictures, and the same Taj Mahal now hanging in a picture in my own house.

An interesting article about the Taj Mahal in the Smithsonian Magazine:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/How-to-Save-the-Taj-Mahal.html#

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145 thoughts on “Visit the Taj

  1. Hi there! Love this blog :) I am actually going to India to visit the Taj in November and have a question for you. Do you have to stay the night or is Agra something you can do in one day? Thanks and thanks for sharing!

    • Hi there! I found visiting Agra in just one day enough. My tour guide book called this a “whistle stop visit,” which Rahul and I had a good laugh over, because I still felt like I saw plenty in the one day. We left Delhi around 6ish, stayed at the Taj Mahal from around 8:30/9-1ish (it’s easy to spend several hours there), had lunch at a yummy South Indian restaurant, then went back to visit Agra Fort in time to make our train back to Delhi at 5:30. I do wish we had had more time at Agra Fort, and we would have if we had spent maybe an hour less at the Taj Mahal. So all that to say, yes, totally possible!

      Where else are you going in India??

      • I agree, great post. Aside from the architecture, the most interesting thing about the Taj is probably the people watching. I stayed for a few hours before they closed (as the sun was setting) and then moved to a rooftop cafe to watch the night sky eclipse it altogether. You definitely could do Agra in one day (Fort Agra is a must too) but I highly recommend staying the night and exploring a bit of the town as well. The southern part where most of the workers build their homes makes for an interesting stroll.

    • You can do the Taj as a day trip from Delhi. You can stay in Agra but there is nothing much else to see unless you want to see the Taj in moonlight during the evening and enjoy the views from the river. The Taj is closed on Fridays, cheers Basker

  2. I’ve seen the Taj Mahal 5 times in my 18 year old life, and yet I will gladly go there again just to sit and stare at this marvel. It feels amazing to just sit there and look at people come and go.. I remember going there once when it wasn’t very crowded (shocking.. I know), sitting just outside the tomb – in a corner facing the river at the back. It felt mesmerizing.
    I love the first photo you’ve posted there of the Mahal. very very pretty. Normally in any article related to this wonder, is right from the entrance where you catch the water + gardens + the Taj Mahal itself.. I like the angle in which you take it.

    and ofcourse. congrats on making it to Freshly Pressed !

    • It’s great that you have been so many times, I been several times and each time is different but wonderful, cheers Basker

  3. A lovely post, you are so right, if you stand still for too long in one spot, you will get edged out of the way! Still you got some lovely pictures and nothing compares to seeing it for real.

    I went to the Taj Mahal last year and wrote a little diary of my time there which you might be interested in reading.

    http://bogeyno2.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/incredible-india/

    Finally, well done for getting onto Freshly Pressed! :-)

  4. I agree when you say that people were duplicating themselves (although I couldn’t have said it better). However, I do feel that for me it wouldn’t have been so much fun had it not been for so many people there because I liked the expressions on their faces, especially the ones who were seeing the Taj for the first time!

    Although I went with some German colleagues, it felt more like I was accompanying celebrities (people wanting to click pictures with them and stuff, lol!). It was fun!

    lovely pictures btw :)

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  6. I’ve been to Taj Mahal, too. And i got the same impressions like yours. I was overwhelmed and ecstatic for a couple of minutes, trying to make my self believe that I was really, finally got face-to-face with the ever-famous Taj Mahal. But that was all it. ‘Coz right after it sunk in to my system, the excitement vanished quickly as it came. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because it was suppperrrr hot that i can literally feel droplets of sweat pouring down my face. Haha!

    Great photos, BTW! :)

  7. lovely photos. the taj(and other such edifices) are truly awe inspiring.
    judging from the last pic, it was actually not very crowded. :-) i stay in india and get to be the ‘tourist guide’ whenever someone comes over. trust me, sometimes the place is teeming with people.

    • Years ago, Fridays were free at the Taj Mahal.

      Friday just happened to be the day we could fit it into our schedule.

      Compared to my home in Wisconsin, every place I visited in India felt really crowded. It didn’t help that for most of my trip, I was based out of Mumbai (Bombay), one of India’s two largest cities at the time.

      The Taj on a November Friday put a totally new spin on the notion of crowdedness in India. There were about three times more people than seen in the photos accompanying the article. Friday is the Muslim sabbath and November days are comfortable in Agra. Add the three up and it’s a recipe for a crowd-control disaster. Yet it all works out well.

      By no means were Muslims the only visitors to the Taj that day; the Sabbath just boosted their attendance that day. Indeed, the Taj is revered by everyone across India’s religious spectrum.

  8. Nice post. I liked the Taj, although I wasn’t so keen on the crowds and the dual pricing policy that meant that I had to pay several times what the locals did. But mainly I found that, after several months in India, there are many more amazing buildings that aren’t as famous as the Taj but are equally beautiful, and much less well-known – Amber Fort, Jodhpur Fort, Jaisalmer Fort, Leh Palace, the Sri Menakshi temple, the Bahai temple, Victoria Monument …

    • Agreed, I loved the Taj, but Amber Fort was also one of my favorites, even more so the Lake Palace and City Palace. Was fascinated the most by the monasteries we visited while in the Himalayas. Simply beautiful!

  9. Good.. as everybody sees taj different coz all see it with there different glasses, I see it as ultimate last gift to wife.(Taj was built as mumtaz’s last wish to buried in place like no other.)

  10. Nice insights about the Taj. I’m from india (though not the ‘Bro’ types you may tend to think :) ). A point to note is that the Taj is still maintained in a good state owing to the generous amount of money spent on its maintenance, thanks to the constant inflow of tourists. However, there are many more such monuments of historic significance that lie unattended to. We need a mechanism to maintain those too.

  11. I always feel awful when people hear that I’m from India and have never visited the Taj Mahal. It’s a this long-time dream of mine to visit the sates in the North and ‘see’ the diversity there.

    Glad you enjoyed the trip. ^_^

  12. These photographs remind me of my last trip to India. It’s definitely something to see in your life. Thanks for sharing such amazing pictures.

  13. You have amazing photos of Taj Mahal!!! I am awe just by seeing these photos :) I have always been wanting to go there and experience the beauty of its architecture myself!

  14. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    My former husband (from Bombay) told me an odd story about the Taj:

    Shah Jahan essentially bankrupted the Moghul Empire through his various building projects during his reign. The Taj Mahal ended up being the last in a long string which included the Jami Masjid in Delhi. Shah Jahan was famous for “thinking big” when it came to architecture.

    Supposedly, following the completion of the Taj Mahal, a second was to be built directly across the river from the original – a mirror image executed in black marble. The ‘Black Taj’ was intended to be the tomb of Shah Jahan. The plan called for the two tomb complexes to be connected to each other by a bridge over the river.

    Shah Jahan was deposed shortly after the completion of the Taj and removed to Agra Fort just as building of the Black Taj began. Not even its foundation was completed. This is supposedly why Shah Jahan was entombed off-center in the Taj Mahal next to his beloved.

    Can anyone familiar with Moghul history confirm or deny this?

    I wish your story had mentioned the lovely Persian gardens within the Taj complex walls. The grounds, gardens and various gates are as fascinating as the main tomb. Nothing matches the sense of revelation that comes with walking through an inauspicious gate from an ordinary-looking Agra street into the place of wonderment which lays behind the wall. It is the most lovely creation executed by man I’ve ever seen.

    But that’s really picking nits. I loved the article; it brought back wonderful memories. Congratulations!

  15. Taj mahal was not built by shahjahan at all. Watch out my blog to get details. or search net. The information posted here is 100 % wrong.

    • I actually visited Jama Masjid as well and had a similar reaction as you in your blog post! I couldn’t decide if I was more fascinated by the calmness of the mosque or the hectic streets surrounding it. We took a rickshaw back to our guesthouse through the crowded streets of Old Delhi right afterwards and it was an interesting experience!

  16. wow! i would love to see it for myself. so ornate and beautiful. thanks for sharing! you’ve inspired me to start planning a trip…even if it’s several years out.

  17. Just looking at your first photo of the Taj made me realize how strong and deep Shajahan’s love was for his wife, more so than any other photo I have ever seen of the Taj. It is beautiful.

  18. Nice post! I think what you talk about here can relate to any symbolic tourist attraction in the world (e.g. Eiffel Tower, the Blue Mosque, etc.) in that the amount of tourists around these places is absolutely fascinating.

    I love the positive spin that you take on the crowds by saying that “the hundreds of other people there became not an annoyance but another component of the majesticness of the Taj Mahal”.

  19. This may sound silly but I never knew the history behind the Taj Mahal and I didn’t know that it was built out of the love he had for his wife. And she must have been busy having that many children! It looks absolutely gorgeous, and I would think that the amount of tourists visiting it would be a little overwhelming and it’d be surreal to be there. I love the photos, and it just looks so majestic.

    • I didn’t know the history either! or if I had, I must have forgotten it over the years. it definitely adds a nice twist to the tale behind the building of the structure!

  20. I’ve watched a documentary about how the Taj Mahal was built. How every cent of India was shelled out for this lovely masterpiece. And why was it created. Gaahd, I’ve had goosebumps on the details and every little thing you see in this Taj has its purpose, technically and symbolically. :) Glad you enjoyed the visit.

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  22. I’m currently reading “Beneath a Marble Sky” by John Shors. The book is historically accurate with liberties taken with events, characters and customs. Reading your article and seeing different views of the Taj Majal helped to bring the book even more alive. Thank you for posting.

  23. I want to go here too… I’m currently in Bangalore and it will be our last full weekend in India this coming Sat/Sun so hopefully we’ll be able to arrange everything before then…

  24. The “bros” are an interesting people group. I’m pretty sure they send missionaries all over the world. I have seen them on three continents and in countless cities with my own eyes.

  25. Pingback: The hindu festival of light: Diwali | Cardinal Guzman

  26. Wow! Really put an awe in me.. I’ve been wanting to see Taj Mahal since I got to learn about it in my Asian History subject back when I was in High school. This post and pictures make me more enthusiastic in visiting. I would definitely go there sometime soon. Thanks for sharing this one!

  27. Pingback: Visiting « Travel and Tourism Research and Work based Project

  28. I believe the Taj Mahal is very over-rated. Drooling over a massive, highly decorated building and taking pains (and a lot of money) just to visit such places and take pictures with it seems ridiculous and shallow to me.

  29. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I’ve enjoyed reading through some of your other posts as well. Did you know that Shahjahan actually wanted to build an exact replica of the Taj Mahal in black marble across the river, but one of his sons imprisoned him and wouldn’t release the funds?

    I’m currently based in Kerala, India. Our blog is about Community, Collaboration and Conservation around the World. We’re made up of university students, a professor, photographers, designers, environmentalist…people who like to think.

    I hope you like it! http://raxacollective.wordpress.com/

  30. An Urdu poet “Sahir ludhianvi” said about Taj Mahal,

    That an emperor made fun of poor lovers using his enormous wealth.

    ek shahansha ne dolat ka sahara le kr
    hum gharebon ki muhabbat ka uraya hae mazaq

  31. Lovely post on the Taj Mahal. It was quite starnge for me to see it in real life, too, as I had seen it on so many beautiful photos before. I have the same photo as you from Agra Fort :)

  32. I’ve been to the Taj Mahal, and agree with you about the crowds. When I was there it was mighty hot, and the crowds didn’t help the heat! It’s an awesome monument, the Taj Mahal. It was certainly one of the highlights of my visit to India. Such great love, that a man would want his deceased wife to rest in such splendour. Sigh.

  33. my favorite story the Hindu population used to tell me was that the workers who built it all had their hands chopped off so they couldn’t recreate anything as beautiful and all the architects had their eyes cut out so they could never see anything that great. the Muslims will deny this flat out and I don’t know any historical background on this, but I don’t think it’s too far fetched.
    what class did you ride on the train? i loved all my train rides in India, but the one to Agra was flat out awful, but that’s my own fault for buying cheap tickets.

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